Jennings, who averaged 9.6 points and 5.2 rebounds as a junior, was supposed to anchor the middle next season for a Louisville team expected to be among the nation's elite. But Thursday, the 6-foot-10 center announced his intention to hire an agent and keep his name in the NBA Draft.
In fact, Dieng replaced Jennings in the starting lineup for ten games as a freshman because the junior wasn't producing on the backboards. Despite playing eight more minutes per game, Jennings averaged less than one rebound more per game than Dieng (5.2 to 4.4).
Clearly, Louisville will miss Jennings' shot blocking ability. He led the team with 65 blocked shots, ranking fourth in the Big East. But Dieng, with his 7-4 wingspan, also proved a potent shot blocking force, rejecting 56 shots in five fewer games played. Dieng blocked a shot in 24 of 29 games, with multiple swats in 13 games. He ranked third in the Big East in blocks (1.9 per game) and blocked at least four shots in five games.
Offensively, Dieng is undoubtedly more skilled than Jennings. While Jennings generated most of his offense running the court for dunks and crashing the offensive boards for putbacks, Dieng has solid, though still developing, post moves to go along with a nice midrange touch. Though Jennings improved his free throw shooting as a junior, he connected on only 53 percent from the floor. Dieng made 61 percent of his shots last season.
"We hope Jennings does well, we hope he makes it, and we hope the [NBA] lockout is not too long," Rick Pitino said. "It's easy for us to say that because we are backed up at that position. We're very excited about Gorgui and Zach Price coming in. We'll probably use Stephen Van Treese as the third person at that position."
Dieng's best game as a freshman came against national champion UConn in mid-February. With Jennings relegated to the bench because of early foul trouble, Dieng was forced to play a season-high 29 points, responding with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Louisville won that contest with relative ease.
Dieng learned the ropes in the tough Big East as a freshman, but appears primed for a big sophomore season. Though he was pushed around in the paint last season, Pitino said Tuesday Dieng will be much stronger next season.
"Gorgui Dieng has already put on 18-pounds of muscle," Pitino said. "He came to [America] at like 170-pounds. Now he's in the 230's and we hope to have him 250 by the start of the season. With his length and wingspan we expect him to be a major impact player for us next year, as well as Zach Price."
Though Dieng could prove to be an upgrade over Jennings in the middle, Louisville's depth at the position is a little more suspect without Jennings in the mix. Zach Price, a four-star prospect from Jeffersontown, shows promise, particularly defensively, but lacks experience. Stephen Van Treese received minutes at power forward as a sophomore, but could see time in the post next season. While limited offensively, the 6-foot-9 Van Treese plays hard and hits the glass.
"We've got two outstanding five men in Gorgui Dieng and Zach Price so we're fine with that and if another young man wants to come and join us we're fine with that," Pitino said recently.
Louisville's depth could improve significantly if Tony Woods, a transfer from Wake Forest, elects to play for the Cardinals next season. Woods, who attended junior college in Louisville this semester, was expected to join Pitino's program next season. But his status is uncertain following Tim Fuller's departure for Missouri last month. Fuller, a former player at Wake Forest, was the point man for Louisville in Woods' recruitment.